The solar industry has helped Ontario stay afloat during the financial slump. Private investment in the industry is expected to reach $12.9 billion by 2018. The success of this burgeoning industry is largely due to the province’s FIT and microFIT schemes. These schemes give incentives to home and business owners as well as farmers who set up solar arrays on their properties and sell the energy generated to the province at preferential rates.
A recent study showed that the solar industry had invested $2 billion in the province in 2011 alone, creating an estimated 8,200 jobs. A number which will increase to 11,400 in 2012 with 25 jobs created for every megawatt of energy installed by 2018, the solar industry is proving to be a real boon to the province.
Although many home and business owners are committed to switching to renewable sources of energy for the benefit to the environment, the FIT and microFIT incentives do make solar affordable to many who would not otherwise be able to install such a system. The ecoENERGY program provides rebates for the home owners who use solar technologies. These rebates are part of the government’s long-term energy plan which aims to reduce consumption by 14%.
The growing need for electricity will require the province to create new facilities and refurbish many of the old ones. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated by new or refurbished nuclear facilities. The cost to the tax payer will be profound. Two nuclear reactors are already planned for the Darlington plant while 10 are being refurbished at Darling and Bruce power stations. The costs of these refurbishments will double hydro bills in the province by the time the project is complete.
Fall 2011 will see a review of the FIT and microFIT systems with an adjustment to tariffs issued to electricity producers. With an election looming in October, some political figure are blaming escalating hydro bills on the microFIT and FIT tariffs, threatening the future of these incentives and, as a result, the solar industry in the province. A study by ClearSky Advisors Inc shows that the cost of the FIT programs to residents of the province is expected to rise to 70c for a typical household bill by 2018. This amount is negligible when compared to the forecast of bills doubling thanks to refurbishments during the same time. The cost of installation and maintenance of solar systems is borne by the home or business owner making it one of the cheapest sources of electricity for consumers.
Solar energy becomes cheaper as technology advances and demand grows. The Ontario Power Authority also enforces a 60% local content law which stimulates growth of the solar design and manufacture. A recent breakthrough by the University of Alberta team (based on research from the University of Toronto) has lead to the viability of spray on solar technologies. Without the market interest in these technologies, Canada will not be able to be a market leader in the field.
The study shows the tremendously positive influence that the solar industry has had on the Ontario economy. The FIT programs have contributed to the growth of the solar industry in the province. Although revisions and adjustments of FIT tariffs is the natural progression of such projects, the programs themselves are well worth the investment. If you would like to take control of where your energy comes from, contact your local MP and voice your opinion. You should also investigate installing a solar system of your own. Use energy you can be proud of.
Richards Memorial United Church (Richards Memorial), in London, Ontario began operating their microFIT project on January 6, 2011. They are expecting to earn $216,000 over the lifetime of their OPA contract. The church borrowed $87,000 from the Middlesex Presbytery of the United Church of Canada to finance their project. They expect to pay off the loan within eight years and then start generating income.
DuRock Alfacing International received its first microFIT payment in Ontario. The $4,000 payment was a 5% return on their initial investment. DuRock combined their elastomeric utherane roof coating which reflects solar radiation with Sanyo’s HIT double PV modules to get 30% higher output. See the full story…
So you’ve been thinking about generating your own power and taking your home or cottage off “the grid”? Or taking advantage of the government incentives and making some money with the Ontario microFIT program? Either way, there are a few things to consider before you add a solar power system to your home.
Here’s a short guide to what you’ll need to get those solar panels from being just a good idea to an installed power-generating (and moneymaking) part of your home.
First you need to understand what solar panels (photovoltaic or PV panels) are – and aren’t. They aren’t simply plug-in play. There’s no extension cable where you can plug them directly into your house to power your appliances. They require installation, just like your other electrical equipment, or house plumbing. As well, they need other components to do their job, because by themselves they can’t work in a home. To understand this better we need to understand how solar cells, the pattern on the panels which are typically blue and sometimes black, work.
Obviously, a solar cell works from the sunlight hitting it, which causes electricity to flow. However, that electricity differs from your household current in three major ways. Firstly, solar panels are low voltage, typically 35-55 volt, and so solar cells have to be joined together to get that voltage higher. As well, the voltage is irregular. Whereas your house voltage is constantly around 120 volts, a solar cell generates more in the strong sun, and less in the shade (and of course nothing at night). Thirdly, a solar cell’s power is DC, or Direct Current. That means all the power flows in one direction in the wire, witch is different from a home’s AC, or Alternating Current.
So much of solar power installs will not be just the solar panels, but devices to solve these three problems. For example, you’ll use a battery to provide power in off times; of course, if you are connected to an electric utility through the Ontario MicroFIT or FIT programs, referred as “on the grid”, then you may not need batteries, since you can put your excess power “out there” for others to use, and end up making some money. However, if you’re on your own (such as a cottage), then you’ll need deep cycle batteries to keep your lights going at night.
Another device you’ll need with your batteries is a battery charge regulator, also known as a charge controller, which makes sure the batteries are charged and discharged properly to avoid problems, such as shortened battery life (and of course, if you don’t use batteries, you won’t need this device).
Finally, the DC current, whether from the solar cells or from the storage batteries, needs to be converted to AC. If you’ve seen anything about electricity, you’ve seen what is called a sine wave, like the ripples in water when a pebble goes in. DC is like a quiet lake. So another device, the inverter, not only creates those waves, turning the DC into AC, but it can make those waves nice curved sine wave shapes, which is better for appliances using the power. It also makes sure the rate is 60 cycles a second, which we in North America expect from our power lines. Once that’s done, it’s good to go, whether into our home, or onto the grid.
So knowing the components, what else needs to be done? Specific installation will require specific things – for example, you’ll need the roof reinforced if you’re planning a lot of solar panels and your roof isn’t up to code. However, at about 50 pounds a panel, most normal roofs can handle the load. Different types of roofs will require different supports (a shingle roof versus a metal roof, for example). It’s also important to analyze your roof for the ideal place for the panels. If you have nearby trees or objects that might block the panels, consider another location or you might want to have a shade analysis, or move the obstruction. Aiming the cells properly can mean a big difference in power generation. For example, if you have a flat roof, you will have to use a solar panel rack that is designed to angle the panels in just the right position to better face the sun.
As well, you’ll also need a place for the support equipment your solar panels will need. A wall in the garage will likely do for the inverter, but not for the batteries if you use them. Depending on the battery type, you may require good ventilation, since some of them can give off hydrogen gas, which is dangerous in enclosed spaces. As well, batteries work poorly at too hot or too cold a temperature, so an unheated garage in Canadian winters is a definite no-no for them!
Eventually you’ll meet with a contractor or reputable solar installers and go over the details of your specific install. While each one will be different, the preliminary work you do beforehand will make their job easier – and could save you money. Additionally, by planning ahead of time, you’ll be aware of what you’ll need and what you won’t (like batteries if you are connected to a grid).
Solar energy is getting bigger, and it’s here to stay. It’s a great way to lower your energy costs, and it helps prevent further damage to our ecosystem. Adding solar panels to your home is not only ecologically sound, it’s also a boost to your resale value – and that’s yet one more reason to make the move to solar!